STAR – Leading the Way for the HIV G.E.T Tested Research Team

Could self-testing improve uptake of HIV testing in the Philippines? Could gaming support uptake and use of self-testing in Africa? Members of the HIV G.E.T Tested Project and the Self-Testing Africa (STAR) have had the fortunate opportunity to explore this exact question during the 5th Qualitative Reseach Network (QRN) meeting in Liverpool, Feb 2017.

The two research groups are exploring HIV testing and counselling in two very different contexts; however, both share the same goal of increasing the number of people within the at-risk populations knowing their HIV status. This shared vision means there is much we can learn from one another.

Self-testing in the Philippines

During the formative research stage of the HIV G.E.T Tested Project, members of the MSM and transgender (TG) population demonstrated a clear desire for discreet and convenient testing services, wherein a self-testing model could be ideal. While self-testing kits are available for purchase online in the Philippines, there is currently no research exploring the best distribution model for efficient uptake and linkage to care.

A Game Changer for HIV Self-testing

So what place does gaming have in HIV self-test distribution models? Short answer, we have no idea. We are yet to explore the potential of gamification to address challenges in self-testing. Qualitative and quantitative data presented during the QRN meeting has ignited ideas. Where do the barriers to self-testing lie, how do we reveal and explore these barriers and what challenges could our game currently under development begin to address?

What has always been clear is our game must be responsive to the ever-changing demand and architecture of health services in the Philippines. It must both support and aim to enhance methods in increasing knowledge of HIV status among key populations.


HIV G.E.T Tested Project Update

It has been far too long since we’ve updated the blog. Thankfully this was not due to a lack of activities to report on, but more a lack of time to write.

The HIV G.E.T Tested Project has completed it’s first year. To ensure the game addressed existing barriers to HIV testing and treatment, we’ve been conducting formative research with; the MSM and transgender (TG) population, HIV testing and treatment service providers and avid gamers in the Philippines.

In the autumn of 2016, the team conducted an online and facilitated survey to explore enablers and barriers to testing among the target population. Analysis of interviews with MSM and TG, and focus group discussions with service providers, supported the design of the survey.  The survey attracted a whopping 900 participants! There were no incentives offered for completing the survey. The survey’s popularity has been credited to the targeted advertising organised by the University of the Philippines, College of Medicine and a real demand in the Philippines for improved information and services for HIV testing and treatment.

In November 2016, Charlotte Hemingway ventured to the Philippines to facilitate workshops with avid gamers. The aim of the workshop was to gain a better understanding of how the target population interacts with mobile games, the feasibility of initial design and delivery ideas and the cognitive understanding of what a serious game is and more specifically a serious game for HIV in the Philippines. For Charlotte the event was as fun as it was informative;

I had to keep pinching myself, thinking is this really my job, I get to spend hours talking about games with people as equally as passionate as I am.

We are currently in the process of translating findings from a collection of interviews, focus group discussions, clinic mapping reports and survey data into a game design document. The aim is that this data will ensure our end game is sensitive to the Philippine context, in line with current practices and available services, and demonstrates potential ‘tipping points’relating to an individual’s decision to test. For example, an individual may be acutely aware of the impact of HIV and risks of transmission, yet they do not test because they can’t afford the time off work. The ‘tipping point’ within the game could be an integrated advert, presenting free testing at local clinics and their opening times. Providing the user with practical information to help them assess if a behaviour is achievable, at a point in time when they are thinking about HIV and their health.

The project is currently on-track to complete a technical prototype of the game by the end of February 2017.

If you have any questions about any of ETCH’s projects then please get in contact.

Finally, ETCH would like to express huge gratitude to the research assistants from the University of the Philippines. Whether conducting interviews or rapidly editing videos to thank participants, your multi-disciplinary dedication to the project has been invaluable.

ResistanceSim on the BBC

BBC Health Check tackles health on a global scale. Instead of catching up with researchers from LSTM in some far-reaching tropical country we got to chat about insecticide resistance a little closer to home. While touring the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, presenter Claudia Hammond took some time to interview volunteers at each of the health-related exhibits.

To hear the podcast ‘Cutting-edge Medicine from the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition’ click here. Skip to 03:35 for ResistanceSim.

A Big Thanks to our Brilliant Beta Testers

Members of the vector department and volunteers from LSTM have been searching for bugs of a very different kind this month. As part of the development process it is vital we test the game on as many devices as possible. This will highlight any usability issues and technical bugs before we take the game into the test market phase.

Since the beta testing session, the development team has been working hard, fixing and testing bugs, while implementing some changes to address usability issues highlighted by our volunteers.

The beta testing phase was the first time we’ve been able to observe people play and interact with the game. Feedback has been used to adjust the game difficulty and user interface. In general, everyone was surprised to see the level of detail and quality of the graphics used, the intro animation was definitely a hit. Some found locating information and actions in the game a little tricky, so we’ve added a game map which details what actions, data, and characters are available at each map level. game map blog

We can not stress enough how much we appreciated the detailed feedback we received from our volunteers, which has been pivotal for improving the game design.

The beta testing phase focused on evaluating the usability of the game’s interface and reliability of the software. The test market phase we’re moving into now will evaluate the game as a learning tool, by assessing people’s perception of the game and if there has been any change in their knowledge or attitudes as a result of playing the game.


Liverpool Light Night 2016


The Mosquito Diaries is an interactive exhibit put together and run by ETCH and members of the Vector Department at The Liverpool School of Tropical. From buzz wire games to little buzzers in cages, the public got a rare insight into the cutting-edge research conducted at LSTM. The exhibit had its first outing at the Everyman Playhouse as part of Liverpool’s Light Night 2016.

0029_Everyman Light Night-0457v2

The exhibit aimed to inform the public about the challenges of insecticide resistance; demonstrating the benefit of combining advances in technology and traditional science to protect the interventions that have saved countless lives. The ResistanceSim bioassay mini games made an ideal addition and gave both kids and adults alike the opportunity to take on the role of a lab technician without the risk of getting bitten. A purpose built tablet edition of the mini games and custom questions were developed just for the occasion.LNv3.jpg

After the success of Light Night the whole team is really looking forward to the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibit. To keep up with the Mosquito Diaries follow us on twitter @MosDiaries